Sunday, June 10, 2007

Youm al-Juma'a

On Thursday, not only did I play the good student and go to class rather than to carnatic chant, I also stayed home that evening to do homework (gasp!) housework (what?!?) and cooking preparation (now that sounds more like the Katy you all know and love).

You see, in a moment of confidence and folly I had decided to invite my classmates over for Friday couscous, a near-sacred tradition. While every other day of the week is named for its number, from Sunday's first to Saturday's seventh, Friday is instead the day of gathering, coming together: Mosque day, the day of communal rather than individual prayer. After worshipping together, extended families gather while smaller families join friends and neighbors for lunch, which is invariably couscous.

I had loved this tradition when living with a family, and now that I had a kitchen of my own I decided once again to participate. I'd observed and assisted in couscous preparation, but had not tried it solo. Still, it's simply not a dish made in small portions, and so I invited the girls from my class to become guinea pigs and three cheerfully accepted.

Thursday afternoon I wandered through the market, buying zucchini, pumpkin, cabbage and carrots; saffron threads, extravagant even here, though far less so than at home; ripe tempting cherries and lemony green olives as accompaniment. Friday morning I rose early to cut vegetables and dissect the whole chicken before class, returning at noon ready to put the whole mixture on the stove.

A couscoussière is an oversized steamer - the chicken-and-vegetables mixture all goes in the bottom half while the couscous sits above it in a colander-like pot, making this a one-burner meal. The hard part isn't so much the cooking process but the couscous preparation. First it has to be dampened and hand-rolled until it unclumps, then put into the steam pot. After twenty minutes of cooking, you have to take it back out, add more water and oil and spices, unclump everything again without burning your hands, and transfer it back into the pot. I understand now why couscous hasn't really caught on back home - this stuff is considerably more work but also much better than its instant boxed cousin.

Amazingly enough, it turned out. Some chickpeas had to be sacrificed when we found the flies had gotten into them, I spilled couscous on the floor during one of the bowl-to-steamer transfers, and the whole finished product ended up on the slightly bland side - still, the company was good, the conversation fun, and the experience good enough to inspire another try in two weeks' time. Now I just have to figure out how to get my couscoussière home so I can bring a little more of Morocco back for family and friends.


scarlettscion said...

Getting it home is going to be a doozy, I'm trying to figure it out myself.

QSS said...

semolina pilchard climbing up the eiffel tower